26th November 2023 – (Shenzhen) Every weekend, throngs of Hong Kong shoppers now make a pilgrimage across the border to the massive Sam’s Club warehouse in Shenzhen. Lured by steep discounts on everything from fresh seafood to frozen dumplings, they arrive by the busload to fill their trolleys before triumphantly hauling their loot back home.
This new fad spotlights the rise of membership warehouse clubs in China, which have tripled sales in recent years. U.S. retail giants like Walmart-owned Sam’s Club and Costco pioneered this model. Now domestic chains are jumping in, betting Chinese consumers want Western-style bulk shopping.
The trend took off during Covid lockdowns as people stockpiled goods. But even after restrictions eased, these warehouse clubs retained their appeal. Their rise coincides with waning hypermarket sales as more Chinese shop online.
Currently Sam’s Club dominates with 44 locations across China. Rival Costco has just 4 stores on the Mainland. Meanwhile, local retailers like Sun Art Retail and Alibaba’s Freshippo are emulating the concept with bulk-buy memberships.
Sam’s Club woos affluent Chinese with imported favourites like Ippudo instant noodles and Godiva chocolates. Shoppers pay a yearly fee for access. Queues now greet each new store opening.
To stay ahead, Sam’s Club offers online delivery in 30 minutes and stocks unique products like Peking duck from a famous Beijing restaurant. This curated selection differentiates it from local copycats simply repackaging their existing inventory as bulk buys. Of all rivals, Alibaba’s Freshippo poses the biggest threat. Its membership arm Freshippo X targets younger urbanites with imported snacks and seasonal Chinese fruits. Its innovation impresses Walmart executives.
Still for now, Sam’s Club remains miles ahead. No local competitor can match its scale or brand cachet.
For price-conscious Hong Kongers, Sam’s Club’s appeal is obvious. A recent tour found throngs filling trolleys with items costing half of Hong Kong prices. Crabs and frozen dumplings proved especially popular.
One shopper said Shenzhen’s lower prices elicited laughter, joking goods were so cheap they were ridiculous. This praise was music to Sam’s Club staff. They noted pleased Hong Kongers now represented a major new customer segment.
The influx has prompted the chain to extend selling seasons of favoured Hong Kong items like hairy crabs. More refrigeration was added to keep purchases fresh during the ride home.
Sam’s Club also provides a novel experience hard to replicate in cramped Hong Kong. There, sky-high rents prohibit massive stores offering unlimited browsing. Shenzhen therefore represents an irresistible bargain hunter’s paradise. Now Hong Kong merchants are trying to tap the Sam’s Club craze by becoming proxy retailers. Small shops there sell Sam’s Club purchases at a markup, creating a lucrative new trade channel.
This warehouse club fever spotlights changing Chinese consumption patterns. As the economy slows, people seek value to stretch budgets. Bulk buying at Sam’s Club fits the bill.
The trend’s longevity remains uncertain. But for now, its popularity endures both as a shopping staple and a weekend Hong Kong family outing. Whatever the future, Sam’s Club has carved a niche providing mass retail entertainment as much as bulk bargains.